Singapore has a reputation as Asia’s world city and the city-state is a popular gateway to all the holiday hotspots from East Asia to Southeast Asia and beyond. You can also enjoy two holidays in one when you pair a stay in Singapore with one of the 97 other Asia destinations available on the Singapore Airlines network (including SilkAir and Scoot). Here’s just six of the amazing stops for a double-dip side-trip.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Revel in the chaos or seek out the charm and air-conditioned calm in Ho Chi Minh City, a colourful collection of maze-like streets where cyclists, pedestrians and scooters jostle for space amid sleek skyscrapers. A popular emerging destination for Australian travellers, HCMC is a headlong cultural and sensory immersion you won’t soon forget.
Like Singapore, the city still known as Saigon to locals is also a foodie destination where the street food is legendary. Sample bo bia (fried spring rolls), banh xeo (crispy savoury pancakes) and Vietnamese iced coffee served with condensed milk over ice cubes for a taste of Saigonese favourites. There’s also the French colonial legacy in HCMC, which can be seen in landmarks such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and crusty bread alike. Famous markets, such as Ben Thanh in the heart of HCMC where the merchandise is piled sky-high and covers all bases, are the places to flex your haggling skills.
A more sobering encounter can be found on a tour to the underground Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum where the legacy of war lingers to learn from and remember. Adding balance to the frenetic vibe are peaceful pagodas that incorporate elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism amid wisps of traditional huong (conical incense) and intricate woodcarvings.
Double down on big-city thrills with a trip to both Singapore and Tokyo. One of Asia’s most populous metropolises, Tokyo ranks high with Aussie travellers who seek culture and city attractions in equal measure. Filled with an electric energy, where else in the world can you be swept up in sheer scope of the biggest pedestrian intersection in the world (Shibuya Crossing) or dazzled by the famous vertical neon lights of Shinjuku?
Shinjuku is the Tokyo most visitors know – from the teeny-tiny bars (izakaya) in Golden Gai to the stimulating sight of neon, bars, vending machines and love hotels that line the streets. There’s the kitschy yet geek-chic appeal of the Robot Restaurant and Ninja Akasaka restaurant for a themed meal, or head to Harajuku for the kawaii-cool style of Tokyo’s teen mecca. With cultural offerings from Hello Kitty to anime and architecture, you’ll also find plenty of art galleries, museums and retail outlets around Tokyo for creative minds.
Singapore and Tokyo are both renowned for their sky-high bars, too – the ideal way to revel in the panoramic cityscape. Seek out The Peak Bar on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo for 360-degree views of Shinjuku (the hotel’s New York Grill & Bar on the 52nd floor also featured in the movie, Lost in Translation) or head to the alfresco beer terrace at Kirin’s Spring Valley Brewery to sample Tokyo’s burgeoning craft beer scene in the open air.
Dynamic and diverse, Delhi is a city of contrasts with Mughal-era forts and futuristic malls. This blend of modern and traditional can be seen in historic buildings such as the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb and Jama Masjid – all foundation stones of any deep-dive into the era-spanning splendour of Delhi’s religious edifices.
Where Singapore has the cultural enclave of Little India, Delhi fits the entire population of Australia within its city limits for a sensory adventure that’s simply everyday life in the Indian capital. Savour the aromas of sautéed spices and chaat (a streetside snack for a sweet-sour-savoury crunch of flavour) or those with a sweet tooth might be tempted by Indian sweets and freshly brewed chai. Markets are a must-do experience for an immersion into the colour and chaos. Chandni Chowk is Delhi’s largest and oldest market that even houses the Red Forts within its labyrinthine confines. For a more upmarket retail experience, head to South Extension (South Ex) – one of Delhi’s wealthiest suburbs – for the dizzying contrast from old to new.
Seoul, South Korea
Hallyu is the all-encompassing term coined for the so-called ‘Korean Wave’ that has seen South Korea export its pop culture via K-pop and K-dramas to the rest of the world since the 1990s, and there’s no doubt Seoul is riding high on the ensuing popularity. The sprawling city is an emerging destination for cutting-edge trends with eclectic design, creative cuisines and new neighbourhoods all vying for your attention. K-beauty is the latest (and affordable) trend that makes for covetable, one-of-a-kind souvenirs, too.
Another (and literal) hotspot to try are Seoul’s jjimjilbangs (meaning ‘heated rooms’) for the Korean bathhouse and sauna culture that even includes sleeping rooms. Whether you’re after a relaxing spa experience or a communal social hangout, it’s a must-try local experience.
Like Singapore, Seoul is also a fashion hub where local style ranges from traditional hanbok costumes to designs with minimalist flair and high-quality fabrics. The showcase of K-everything is Gangnam, south of the Han River, while Gangbuk to the north houses royal palaces and museums. The cityscape spans skyscrapers and manicured parks, historic temples and shrines and mountain treks and cycle paths – Seoul reveres both the traditional and high-tech in all endeavours.
Famous for its white sandy shores and balmy weather, Phuket is the ideal spot for a flop-and-drop holiday (hello, Thai massages) or an exciting Thailand island escape that makes a great counterpoint to the city highlights of Singapore. Beaches range from popular Patong to chilled-out Karon as well as more secluded shores such as Nai Thon within Sirinat National Park. Phuket Town is the spot for historic 19-century shophouses and colourful Sino-Portuguese architecture, which now house arty cafes and crafty textile shops to browse amid hidden shrines and Taoist temples.
You can also sample local traditions within floating fishing villages, while limestone karsts and caves can be deftly traversed on a tranquil kayak expedition. But really, the true appeal of a Phuket holiday lies in the opportunity to do as little or as much as you please.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia’s bustling capital is a whirlwind of motorbikes, markets and monks that really captures the essential essence of Asia. With its ideal location at the intersection of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers (perfect for a sunset boat cruise) and dotted with historic and ornate Khmer architecture, Phom Penh takes a bow to the past while looking forward to the future. The Royal Palace, resplendent in gilded accents, is a distinctive landmark with the Silver Pagoda (situated within the same compound and named for its silver floor) open to the public. You’ll also find French colonial mansions on leafy boulevards.
The country’s turbulent past is on display in dedicated museums, yet Cambodia’s vibrant spirit shines through in its youthful optimism and opportunities. Check out one of Asia’s emerging capitals via the massive Art Deco-domed Phsar Thmei or Central Market, sample the cafe culture and cuisines (French pastries and fish amok are must-eats), down a sundowner at a hip riverside bar and kick on into the night.
All images: Getty Images
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This article originally appeared in Flight Centre's Travel ideas: Asia magazine, available in store and to read online.